Venus as the Evening Star

Date: May 16-31
Time: 7:30 pm, one hour after sunset
Place: the western sky

Brilliant Venus reaches its greatest eastern elongation on June 9th, and will be prominent in the western sky for the next month. Look for the brightest thing in the west after sunset, and you’ll be looking at Venus.

When a planet reaches greatest elongation, that means it appears as far from the Sun as it can. This only happens with planets that orbit closer to the Sun than we do (i.e., Venus and Mercury). If you watch Venus over a period of time, you’ll see it move back and forth to either side of the Sun. What you’re seeing is its orbit around the Sun from an outside point of view.

At the point of greatest elongation, Venus will be 48° from the Sun and near the brightest in its 1.6 year cycle. It will, in fact, be the brightest object in the sky (after the Sun and Moon). Venus ranks high on the list of “strange lights” reported to air and police authorities, and was once fired on by a temporarily disoriented fighter pilot.

Over the next month, Venus will dip back down toward the Sun, decreasing in brightness. By late August, Venus will be on the other side of the Sun and visible as the Morning Star. Look for it then in the East just before sunrise. If you have binoculars or a telescope, check it out. Venus goes through phases just like the Moon. Right now, you’ll see it as a “half Venus.” Over the next month it will become a “crescent Venus.”

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